Shelter-in-place orders in response to the coronavirus pandemic have increased public awareness and scrutiny of gig economy from the Instacart shoppers who buy groceries, to Amazon Flex drivers who deliver packages. But many other kinds of laborers including domestic and agricultural workers, temp agency workers and freelancers—also piece together short-term jobs. Many are classified as independent contractors, which means they are not covered by law that ensures minimum wage, prohibits harassment or provide safety equipment.
Below are 5 common myths about the gig economy.
1- The gig economy is taking over.
It is of course here to stay but it is not replacing traditional work. Increasing number of workers have engaged in these “side hustles” in the past decade, with the most growth among those using online platforms such as Uber, Instacart and TaskRabbit. So only 10% of workers earn most of their income from the gig economy, a share that has remained stable for more than 20 years.
2- The gig economy has been driven by technology.
The technology has created the digital gig economy but the decisions of managers and policymakers shape the labor market more than technological development does. Beginning in the 1970s, employees came to be seen as a cost to be cut rather than a source of profit. The use of temp agencies, introduced in the 1950s, exploded in this era. With technology no more advanced than spreadsheets and land line telephones, reliance on temp agencies continued into 21st century, laying the foundations for today’s gig economy. Technology can facilitate and accelerate change, but it does not drive it.
3- Gig workers are mostly millennials..
According to a Deloitte report from 2018,“The gig economy is going strong, and millennials are leading the way.” It predicted that they would probably account for 42 percent of self-employed workers by 2020. Millennials tend to value job security, tend to hold jobs longer than the generation before did at their age. But some of these factors make gig work unappealing to many millennials.
4- Gig work can be a backup option in a slow economy
In the face of unprecedented unemployment people should consider using freelance positions to gain experience and hourly gig jobs as a stopgap solution to paying bills during a downturn. But short term jobs, arranged through an app or not, allow companies to shift the financial risks of a tumultuous economy onto workers. Rather than providing a saving grace, gig work exacerbates the uncertainty workers face during a recession.
5- Gig workers have lots of flexibility
Gig companies often describe a trade-off. What workers lack in stability, they make up for in flexibility. Most drivers prefer freedom and flexibility to the forced schedules and rigid hourly shifts of traditional employment.
Not all gig work is created equal, though. Some contract work allows people to choose what they do, when they do it and what rates they charge. But several online platforms use variable pay, rating systems and notifications to push people to accept certain jobs and work certain hours. These practices, limit the flexibility of work.
Uber drivers report being monitored through their phones and deactivated without notice. Low, unpredictable wages and a lack of benefits can push people to work more hours than they would in a full time job.
Flexibility does not have to come at the cost of job security and decent wages.